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Home / Features / I can now play stacks of Nintendo games on my iPhone – but I want more

I can now play stacks of Nintendo games on my iPhone – but I want more

Proper emulators have been a long time coming to iPhone. But will Apple now let Delta and its ilk flourish, or throw up more walls that stymie retrogaming on its devices?

Delta running on an iPhone, with a pig flying behind it.

It’s a good thing my editor greenlit this column on the Delta Nintendo emulator for iPhone. Now I can justify my hours tinkering with it as ‘essential research’ rather than pure, unadulterated procrastination. At least between those moments where I carefully check the sky for airborne porcine critters, and listen for news reports that hell has frozen over, given that here I am, using an actual emulator, downloaded from the actual App Store, on an actual iPhone.

Emulators and I in fact go back to my first Apple machine. At the time, the internet wasn’t a thing at home. So when I had an evening alone and didn’t burn through hours under the delusion I’d have ‘just one more turn’ on Civlization II, I gravitated towards emulators. Occasionally, they’d even work, filling up my nostalgia bucket as I delved into C64 games I’d enjoyed as an even younger me. All while my Mac sat there, getting huffy that I was using a PowerMac to run Power64. Clearly, I’d misunderstood what the whole ‘power’ aspect of that terrifyingly expensive Mac meant.

Staying alive

A much more recent version of Power64 than the one I had. Because I am old.

As tech and emulators evolved, I increasingly immersed myself in the retro-gaming world. When beloved consoles keeled over, emulation kept the games alive. I even managed to snag interviews with many of my gaming heroes, and felt privileged in ensuring their stories wouldn’t be lost. And, of course, emulation meant their games would never be lost either.

Apple’s mobile platforms were alone in not being a part of this. There were efforts to bring emulation to the system, but even the best attempts failed due to Apple’s increasingly draconian rules, which culminated in demanding emulators pre-load every game they’d ever be able to play. I’d look on enviously as Android users stuffed their phones with every classic system imaginable. All the while, the iPhone had to make do with (admittedly impressive) workarounds, such as the online webRcade and sideloading effort AltStore.

Now Apple’s had a sudden change of heart. It’s hard to say why. Maybe Apple finally realised there’s no point banning emulators. After all, it never blocked video players because people can load their own files. Or maybe, with the arrival of third-party app stores – including AltStore PAL with the Delta emulator as its headline act – Apple figured the smart move was to not give users an excuse to head elsewhere.

ROM nom nom

My future on iOS if emulation takes hold. Only for 16 hours rather than 16 minutes.

If you’ve followed the tech headlines, you’ll know Delta didn’t get there first. iGBA did, which freaked people out when Apple pulled it within a day of its launch. But Apple confirmed that wasn’t because iGBA could load ROMs – it’s because it was revealed to be a dodgy knock-off of Delta’s predecessor. Fortunately, a few days later the real thing arrived, for free.

Creator Riley Testut had years ago spent weeks working with Apple to make this happen. Apple said no – multiple times. AltStore was the result – a clever workaround to get Delta into more people’s hands. But with the changed App Store rules, AltStore is now a legit third-party app store in the EU, and the Delta emulator is a chart-topper in the US and UK App Stores. Talk about catharsis. 

But I fear Apple’s knocked down one wall just to build another. Having had a taste of emulators on Apple kit, I want more: a world where iPads and Apple TVs are havens for emulators for everything from classic arcade titles to obscure home micros. But Apple’s rules explicitly talk of ‘retro console games’. What does that mean for DOSBox, FinalBurn Neo, Retroarch, or an Apple II emulator? We’ve no way to know. 

One thing’s for sure: Delta isn’t this journey’s destination – it’s another step. Albeit on a road that may soon result in my playing Civ II on my iPhone, deep into the night. Hmm. Maybe I haven’t thought this emulation business through…

Profile image of Craig Grannell Craig Grannell Contributor


I’m a regular contributor to Stuff magazine and Stuff.tv, covering apps, games, Apple kit, Android, Lego, retro gaming and other interesting oddities. I also pen opinion pieces when the editor lets me, getting all serious about accessibility and predicting when sentient AI smart cookware will take over the world, in a terrifying mix of Bake Off and Terminator.

Areas of expertise

Mobile apps and games, Macs, iOS and tvOS devices, Android, retro games, crowdfunding, design, how to fight off an enraged smart saucepan with a massive stick.

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